UN refugee agency: Israel holding Gazan official abducted off night train in Ukraine
The UN agency believes he was abducted and illegally transported by Israeli security forces, perhaps with the aid of Ukrainian counterparts.
Deputy manager of the Gaza power station, Dirar Abu Sisi, 42, went missing "under unknown circumstances" in the early hours of Feb. 19 after boarding a train in the eastern city of Kharkiv bound for the capital Kiev, according to Viktoria Kushnir, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.
Maksim Butkevych, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ukraine, said Abu Sisi has been in custody in Israel since shortly after his disappearance. The UN agency believes he was abducted and illegally transported by Israeli security forces, perhaps with the aid of Ukrainian counterparts.
Up until two days ago, Israeli courts maintained a tight gag order on the case, banning local media from publishing any information on the matter, including information already published abroad.
Earlier this week, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel appealed to the deputy president of the Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court, in an urgent request to remove the gag order. The gag order covers the court hearing as well, but the restriction on publishing foreign reports expired two days ago, without the state requesting its extension or informing the media that it had expired. For this reason, Israeli media did not know it could quote its foreign counterparts on the matter until yesterday, when it transpired the gag order had expired. Last night, the Haaretz website carried reports from foreign media on the matter.
Abu Sisi's Ukrainian wife Veronika, 32, said that she and her husband were in Ukraine as part of his application for citizenship. She said her husband was a senior engineer and a key manager on Gaza's only power plant. Gaza sources said Abu Sisi was also known as an enthusiastic supporter of Hamas, noting that one couldn't be appointed to the senior post of deputy manager of the plant without being a strong Hamas loyalist.
Abu Sisi, a Jordan native and father of six, was in Ukraine trying to apply for citizenship after spending 12 years in the Gaza Strip. Veronika Abu Sisi said the family decided to return to Ukraine after life in the Gaza Strip became unsafe for their three daughters and three sons, and her husband flew to Ukraine to apply for citizenship in January.
In mid-February, after submitting all the paperwork, he was told by Ukrainian authorities to report to a government agency in Kharkiv, which was processing his case. After he turned up, government workers briefly seized his passport, then gave it back to him, saying it was a routine check, Mrs. Abu Sisi said.
Relieved, the engineer boarded an overnight train to Kiev to meet his brother who was flying in from Amsterdam, but the reunion never took place. Veronika Abu Sisi said she was told by Ukrainian police officials that two unknown men boarded her husband's train car near the central Ukrainian city of Poltava several hours after departure and escorted him out. She claimed the men were agents of the Mossad.
In recent years, Israel has been waging a global struggle in an attempt to undermine Iran's attempts to deliver weapons and military knowledge into the Gaza Strip. According to the Dubai police and foreign intelligence services quoted by the international media, the Mossad was behind the January 2010 assassination of senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Mabhouh was responsible for smuggling weapons from Iran via Yemen and Sudan to the Gaza Strip. Western media reported that after Mabhouh's assassination, Hamas was forced to reroute its smuggling operations. The same reports said Israel engaged its naval commando in the Red Sea and in the area of Sudan to undermine Iranian smuggling operations there, and on two occasions bombed Gaza-bound Iranian munitions convoys in Sudan.
Further foreign reports spoke of Gaza Palestinians leaving the Strip for training camps in Iran, Lebanon and Syria, to acquire the skills to upgrade the weapons already possessed by their organizations. The Iranians particularly stress training "engineers," who would carry knowledge of weapon building and could coordinate independent Palestinian activity in that area.
Ukrainian prime minister Nikolai Azarov is set to arrive in Israel next week, and is due to discuss expanding cooperation between the two countries. The cooperation is based on a memorandum signed by the two countries several years ago, and it involves, among other things, contact between the defense organizations of the two countries, including reciprocal visits and information exchange.
In the past, Ukraine was involved in weapons trade with the Arab world and with Iran. Israeli defense officials made considerable efforts to desist from this practice, especially where Iran was concerned, arguing that Iran threatened Israel's existence and supported terrorist organizations, such as Hamas.
As part of Ukraine's pro-Western policy under President Viktor Yushchenko, the country developed cooperation with the CIA, allowing the American agency to operate on its soil as part of the rendition policy. The rendition policy involved the U.S. requesting many countries in Eastern and Western Europe, in the Middle East and in South-East Asia to arrest individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activity and interrogate them on their soil, in secret installations known as "black holes." The suspects would then be flown on CIA-chartered planes to third countries or to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ukraine was part of the detention, rendition and transportation of terrorism suspects program.
Yossi Melman and Amos Harel contributed to this report.